California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Chancellor Dirks and Dean Hesse Re Cancelled Palestine class at UC Berkeley

 

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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September 16, 2016

Dear Chancellor Dirks and Dean Hesse,

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of over 200 academics from different California institutions of higher education focused on protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression, is writing to object in the strongest possible terms to your recent suspension of the student-led DeCal course, “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.” This unprecedented action is a breach of the accepted principles of academic freedom and a clear violation of the academic freedom of the student instructor and the instructor of record.

By overruling the vetting and approval process of the senate, it could set a very dangerous precedent for undermining what is absolutely essential for a university to have: academic freedom and faculty governance. This course was vetted through all the normal faculty procedures according to university policies. It was approved by the instructor of record, the sponsoring department, and the Committee on Courses. The administration made its decision to suspend the class without ever consulting the students enrolled in the class, the student instructor and instructor of record, the department, or the senate. Moreover, they have not communicated with any of those involved directly in the class, nor have they requested any information from them. The decision was taken with the utmost disregard of the wellbeing of the students involved.

It behooves the university administration not to cave in to outside political pressures when they try to undermine academic freedom. The suspension of the course not only violates principles of faculty governance, but also encourages and licenses the very organizations that have been harassing students and faculty whose perspectives are different from theirs and who seek to broaden the sphere of learning and critical thinking further than these groups would like.

Academic freedom means the freedom to conduct and disseminate scholarly research and the freedom to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise. Academic freedom means that what is acceptable or unacceptable for professors as such is determined by the faculty, not by administrators, alumni, or donors. Those who administer institutions of higher learning bear a responsibility for the protection of academic freedom. The purpose of the university is to expand students’ critical thinking, not to narrow it.  Scholarly learning at its best often challenges common sense viewpoints. University education therefore may and often should make students uncomfortable.

We are concerned that the suspension of this course was a political decision in response to pressures from outside interest groups which support the perspectives of a foreign government, in this case Israel. This is the latest episode in the relentless attacks on U.S. scholars who teach on or research the topic of Palestine and Israel, orchestrated by a well-financed network of special interest groups such as the AMCHA Initiative, Stand with Us, the Canary Website, and Campus Watch (See the recent Los Angeles Times article on this network: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-uc-israel-palestinian-adv-snap-story.html ). On other campuses, similar attacks have led to the defamation and physical threatening of students as well as faculty, and it is clearly their intent to intimidate not only in this case, but by example. These groups have a well-organized campaign to end any critical discourse on Israel and are fundamentally anti-intellectual in their aims. Imagine, for example, if a class on the U.S. as a settler colonial state were to be suspended on grounds of anti-Americanism!

The extremist charge that the course is anti-Semitic is patently an effort to suppress open learning about the situation in Palestine/Israel, including opening space for scholarly debate.  Similarly, the extremist charge that a scholarly inquiry into how to end the Israeli occupation means the destruction of the state of Israel is patently false. Two years ago, a similar case of intensive pressure took place when the AMCHA Initiative and other pressure groups tried to suspend a similar class through the R’course (much the same as DeCal), with Professor David Lloyd of UCR, one of the signatories of this letter, as the instructor of record. However, the UCR Chancellor did not succumb to the pressure and allowed the class to be offered. Some years ago at Columbia University, a similar case ensued when outsider groups tried to pressure Columbia to refuse tenure to a scholar of Israel, Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, on the grounds that she was seeking the destruction of Israel. In that case, the university did the right thing by abiding by the faculty procedures for evaluating scholarly work and awarded her tenure.

The University’s administration should provide protection to its faculty and students from such continuous harassment, preserving their academic freedom in the process. Therefore, we urge you to re-instate this course immediately and demonstrate that UC Berkeley is still committed to the principles of academic freedom, including freedom from outside political groups who wish to suppress debate on contentious issues.  To do otherwise and succumb to external pressures will expose students and faculty to further harassment from external organizations.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom**

CONTACT PEOPLE:

Ahlam Muhtaseb

Professor, Department of Communication Studies

Interim Director, Center for Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies

California State University, San Bernardino

amuhtase@csusb.edu

Lisa Rofel

Professor, Department of Anthropology

Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

lrofel@ucsc.edu

David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor, Department of English

University of California, Riverside

colles2012@sbcglobal.net

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

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September 17, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks re civility and free speech

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

September 11, 2014

Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor

University of California – Berkeley

Dear Chancellor Dirks,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* a group of 150 academics committed to academic freedom on university campuses, writes in response to your public message to the Berkeley community, titled “Civility and Free Speech” and distributed electronically on September 5. The text is rife with errors, which, coming from a university chancellor, raise serious concerns and prompt this response.

The most glaring error is your apparent lack of understanding of the actual meaning of free speech, as well as its relationship to academic freedom. While you do not mention academic freedom, it is a core issue for your intended audience. Another issue that you do not mention but is likely to have prompted your message is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You write: “when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation.” On UC Berkeley and on campuses all over the country, currently no issue compares to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the passions and animus that disagreements evoke. But even more importantly, nothing presently compares to the problematic way that some university and college administrators have chosen to deal with this particular conflict, including advocating a censorious approach to “civility.” We read your message as a manifestation of this problem.

In timing and substance, your message echoes events over the last two months at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign following the unilateral decision by Chancellor Phyllis Wise to “un-hire” Associate Professor Steven Salaita. Wise claimed that she made her decision out of concern that Salaita might be an uncivil presence on that campus because of some of his Twitter posts during Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza; he was reacting to the enormous carnage and destruction. As critics of Wise’s announcement immediately and continuously have pointed out, Salaita was tweeting as a private citizen, exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. However, the real motivation for Wise’s decision, as we now know thanks to the FOIA release of email traffic to and from her office, was her desire to accommodate some wealthy donors and alumni who communicated their anger and threatened to withhold support for the school if Salaita were to join the faculty because his public profile includes criticism of Israeli state policies (which opportunists and those unlearned in the issues spuriously try to conflate with anti-Semitism). Wise’s decision was unwise and potentially illegal. Her decision to refuse employment to a tenured professor, who was selected, vetted, and approved through the university’s normal channels, has been condemned by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), as well as other professional associations and thousands of academics.

In regard to the contents of your message, you claim that civility is a necessary condition for free speech. Specifically, you write: “Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin…” That is flatly wrong, and your reasoning is menacing to free speech. While civility and the exercise of free speech may coexist harmoniously, the right to free speech not only permits but is designed to protect uncivil speech. You also make the startlingly ill-informed claim that “the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled.” Certainly not all kinds of speech are protected under the law (e.g., incitement and harassment), but as another critic of your message has already pointed out, political advocacy is the apotheosis of free speech, and there is no “demagoguery” exception to the First Amendment.

The right to free speech is not the act of speaking or engaging in communicative actions to express ideas publicly, nor is it contingent on the notion that anyone else needs to listen, agree, speak back, or “feel safe.” Rather, the right to free speech is constituted through prohibitions on the infringement of speech, including restrictions framed as “civility” rules. While civility is an ideal—and a good one, free speech is a right. The right to free speech does not dissipate because it is exercised in unideal (uncivil) ways.

There are at least two important ways in which the right to free speech and academic freedom intersect. First, every person in the jurisdiction of the United States has a constitutional right to free speech, including faculty, students, administrators, and staff who compose academic communities. While there remains some disagreement about how much freedom of speech people enjoy in private universities, there is—or should be—no question about free speech rights at public universities because they are understood to be and to operate as extensions of the state. Second, the right to free speech is one of the three pillars of academic freedom, which is a “guild” right of the professoriate. The three pillars of academic freedom are: (1) the freedom to conduct and disseminate scholarly research; (2) the freedom to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise; and (3) the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment which in this context prohibits the professional penalization of professors for extramural speech. Academic freedom is not absolute; rather, what is acceptable or unacceptable for professors as such is determined by the guild, not by administrators, alumni, or donors. Those determinations are based on standards of scholarly excellence and achievement, which manifest through hiring, publication of scholarship following peer review processes, and career reviews in which an individual’s academic record is judged by other professors in his or her field. Those who administer institutions of higher learning bear a responsibility for the protection of academic freedom, which includes free speech in the ways described here.

In conclusion, we regard the arguments you put forward in your message to be incompatible with your responsibility as the Chancellor of UC Berkeley because they contradict the principles of free speech and academic freedom. We request that you publicly withdraw that message, and send a different one that actually affirms your commitment to free speech and academic freedom.

Sincerely yours,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:

Sondra Hale, Research Professor and Professor Emerita, UCLA; phone: 310-836-5121; email: sonhale@ucla.edu

Lisa Hajjar, Professor of Sociology, UCSB, and Edward Said Chair of American Studies, American University of Beirut; email: lhajjar@soc.ucsb.edu

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, UC Riverside

David.lloyd@ucr.edu

909-964-9946

CC:

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, UC Davis

Chancellor Howard Gillman, UC Irvine

Chancellor Gene Block, UC Los Angeles

Chancellor Dorothy Leland, UC Merced

Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, UC Riverside

Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, UC San Diego

Chancellor Sam Hawgood, UC San Francisco

Chancellor Henry Yang, UC Santa Barbara

Chancellor George Blumenthal, UC Santa Cruz

Chancellor Timothy White, Cal State University

President Alexander Gonzalez, Cal State Sacramento

President Les Wong, San Francisco State University

President Soraya M. Coley, Cal State Pomona

President William Covino, Cal State Los Angeles

President Charles Reed, Cal State Chico

President Leroy M. Morishita, Cal State East Bay

President Joseph F. Sheley, Cal State Stanislaus

President Eduardo Ochoa, Cal State Monterey Bay

President Joseph I. Castro, Cal State Fresno

Chancellor Mildred Garcia, Cal State Fullerton

Chancellor Tomás D. Morales, Cal State San Bernardino

Chancellor Diane F. Harrison, Cal State Northridge

Chancellor Lisa A. Rossbacher, Cal State Humboldt

Chancellor Eliot Hirshman, San Diego State

Chancellor Karen Haynes, Cal State San Marcos

Chancellor Ruben Armiñana, Sonoma State

* CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Letter to Chancellor Gillman about harassment of students in support of Palestinian rights at UCI

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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June 12, 2017

Chancellor Howard Gillman

Office of the Chancellor

510 Aldrich Hall

Irvine, CA 92697-1900

via chancellor@uci.edu

Dear Chancellor Gillman,

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, ** a group of over 200 scholars in California institutions of higher education, write to object to a demonstrated bias on your part against students engaging in support for Palestinian rights and the climate of fear and mistrust it has spawned at UC Irvine. This ongoing problem has most recently been evidenced by your complete lack of any mention, never mind concern expressed, over the aggressive presence and even intimidation of UCI students engaging in their constitutionally protected speech against the Israeli Occupation by a group of self-described “active military reservists” of the Israeli Army (otherwise known as Israeli Defense Forces or IDF), who came onto your campus on May 8-11, 2017.

As documented by publicly available video shot by protesters as well as interviews with students, these Israeli “Reservists on Duty,” none of whom is a member of the UCI community, not only came onto the UCI campus to protest the UCI students’ yearly “Apartheid Week” event; but they verbally harassed, disrupted, intimidated, physically threatened and silenced the students engaging in their protected activities.

What’s more, the soldiers clearly represent the military of a foreign government, and are part of a sophisticated and government-directed military effort by the state of Israel to silence criticism of the Israeli occupation by sending these soldiers onto U.S. campuses.

These military representatives of Israel harassed these students not just once but for four days, for hours each day. According to eye witness reports, these Israeli military representatives filmed students, called the Palestinian students terrorists, and repeatedly made racist and misogynist comments to all the students engaged in actions addressing Palestinian rights.

During this time, your campus security personnel and administrative officials stood by and did nothing to protect the rights of your students.  You are now threatening to discipline the victims of this harassment for challenging their harassers about their actions at a public event.

We cannot avoid contrasting your lack of any support for the students with your sending out a letter to the entire UCI community and the public, on May 19 of last year, after a peaceful and entirely lawful protest by Jewish, Arab/Muslim and African American student groups against a pro-IDF film, in which you accused the protesters of having “crossed the line” from civility and repeated unfounded—and quickly disproved—accusations of harassing attendees of the film. We note further that in this case you not only spread false accusations without engaging in any due diligence, but that you never issued a retraction, never mind apology, when it became clear that the accusations were false, and instead actually proceeded with disciplinary proceedings against the Palestinian (but not the Jewish or African American) student group in response. The comparison between your response to that protest and complete lack of public response to this one is glaring and strongly suggests a bias not just against students who support Palestinian rights but against Arab/Muslim students in particular.

We imagine that if another foreign power, say for example, China, sent soldiers or military representatives onto your campus to aggressively and threateningly silence protests about Taiwan independence, Tibetan rights, or democracy, or Russia sent military representatives to silence protests about their occupation of Crimea, you would respond publicly to assure the students of the support of the Administration.  Yet you fail to respond to actions that if not legally actionable, are certainly unethical and immoral and threaten the well-being of students.

You are willing to go against longstanding rulings on academic freedom and the U.S. Constitution’s defense of free speech rights and to put your students in the way of physical and emotional harm. This is potentially legally actionable behavior.

We call on you to defend all of your students’ rights to free speech and to a safe campus.  We ask that you take immediate action to address this ongoing harassment, to drop any charges against the victims, and to put in place campus procedures that do not allow military representatives of foreign powers come onto campus in order to threaten UCI students.

We look forward to your response.

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Professor Dennis Kortheuer

emeritus,

Cal State University Long Beach

dennis.kortheuer@csulb.edu

Sondra Hale, Research Professor

Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies, UCLA

sonhale@UCLA.edu

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

Cc: President Janet Napolitano, University of California Office of the President

Chancellor Dirks, UC Berkeley

Chancellor Kim Wilcox, UC Riverside

Chancellor Henry Yang, UC Santa Barbara​

Chancellor Gene Block, UCLA

Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, UC San Diego

Chancellor George R. Blumenthal, UCSC

Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter, UC Davis

Chancellor Dorothy Leland, UC Merced

Chancellor Sam Hawgood, UC San Francisco

June 14, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment